Anyone who’s been to college, or has ever flipped through a course catalogue, knows there’s a metric butt load of classes you can possibly take. Even if you’ve already decided your major, you might need some filler classes. If you ask for advice on what to take, you’ll probably get a different answer from every person, and those classes will customarily completely coincidentally coincide with their major. (We all love what we do.) I want to try to take more of an objective approach, though there’s still a goal I have in mind when I recommend the classes I do, so if your goal differs from mine, these recommendations might seem wholly unimportant. Keep in mind that these aren’t suggestions for majors, just basic, introductory courses that I think are the most useful.
I’m also slightly limited in that I won’t be talking about classes I haven’t taken or don’t have much knowledge of, because I’m just not informed enough about those subjects to talk about them. But here’s my list!
1. Psychology/Sociology. I think the value of taking even an introductory psychology or sociology course can’t be understated. These are the classes that tell you how individuals and groups work, how they think, and how they are influenced. These are the classes that make you go, “Whoah, that’s why I do that.” Not only is it fascinating information, but it also gets you constantly performing reality checks when you encounter different situations. You start to question obeisance to authority, arguments in favor of tradition, and the way people are socialized from before they are even born. You’ll read about the Milgram experiment, the Asch experiment, the metaphor of the five monkeys and a ladder, and so much other cool stuff.
These classes are particularly important to me because, as we’re all people and part of a community and society, the benefits of understanding how these people and communities work are immense. They provide valuable lessons in introspection and self-awareness that could help alleviate so many of the misunderstandings that are still frighteningly common today.
2. Communication/Rhetoric. Full disclosure, this one is my major, but bear with me. We are a social people, and we thrive on communication. Communication is necessary for everything we do, from talking to our loved ones to getting jobs to making important purchases. Knowing how this communication works, and becoming proficient at it, comes with a variety of benefits. But further, I would recommend at least a basic study into rhetoric, because that’s what drives the world. Rhetoric is in everything, and it can be used both for good and for bad. Salesmen will try to manipulate you, politicians will try to convince you, and even you engage in rhetoric when trying to persuade a friend to listen to this cool new album that just came out.
The thing about rhetoric is that it’s so much more powerful when you’re aware of its existence. In these classes you’ll study advertisements and learn about how and why they work, listen to political speeches, and learn about the elements of making a good speech or taking part in a debate. These tools have more uses than you might initially realize, but if nothing else, they’re great classes to take for the purpose of being aware of the types of tricks someone educated on the subject might try to use on you for their own gain.
3. History. This should go without saying, and I know history can seem a dull subject, but history is the context of everything. History is what we learn from and how we know which direction is forward. Historical knowledge lets you say, “Hang on, we’ve tried this before, and look how it turned out.” It also gives you insight into just about every important issue you might ever find yourself discussing: economics, social justice, travel, politics, outsourcing, etc. If you want to be educated in the now, there’s no better place to look than the past. Of course, make sure you take a history class that focuses on times and places you’re actually interested in. But, when properly taught, a solid history class can offer immense perspective on just about everything.
4. Global Studies. Global studies falls under the social sciences category, and it’s an interesting combination of sociology, psychology, economics, and international affairs. The international bit is key: rather than looking at individual communities or groups, you’re looking at a much broader picture and learning things you may have never even considered before. Why is the outsourcing of jobs still a problem, and why can’t we just bring those jobs back? Why are poor countries having such a hard time becoming more modernized? Why is it so hard to stop child labor? How effective is hashtag activism? How has the internet affected the spread of culture? What exactly is globalization, and is it good or bad?
Like it or not, we live in a highly interconnected and interdependent world, and a global studies course is a fascinating look into how everything works from that much broader perspective. With a good professor, it’s one of those classes that will always have you thinking hard.
5. Language. By “language” I’m talking about any language other than your first. At least from my experience in the United States, learning a second language was never very highly emphasized, and I wish that weren’t the case. You don’t need to take a second language with translation or fluency in mind, but getting more comfortable with a second language is a good idea in the modern world. Knowing more than one language is the norm in many, many places in the world, and you never know when it could come in handy. It could mean the difference between getting a job or not, it could let you help someone out, and it could make your travels much more interesting. Beyond just the language aspect, you’re also exposed to different cultures and different ways of thinking about communication, both verbal and nonverbal.
All the classes I chose tend to work toward my goal of having a greater understanding of the world we live in, the way people work as groups and individuals, and becoming more proficient at communicating. In my opinion, learning these types of things is universally beneficial, but your mileage may vary.
What do you think? Do you have any recommendations?